As far as the eye can see, stretches of boulders protrude from the Earth’s surface in Suru Valley, Ladakh. Mountains as old as time loom in the distance, bearing witness to nature’s forces. The landscape is almost otherworldly, except for a few houses occupied by local farmers and landlords that bring spectators back to reality. Tenzing ‘Jammy’ Jamyang and Suhail Kakpori, who run a climbing gym outfit called GraviT, in Leh, knew the place had greater potential than what meets the eye. After scouting the venue thoroughly in 2012 and the years that followed, the team returned in 2016 to launch the Suru Boulder Fest that became a hub for bouldering—a discipline of rock-climbing—which drew participants from over 20 countries. “The idea was to attract as many climbers as possible with the intent to shed light on the place and the sport,” Jamyang explains. Eventually, other adventure activities such as highlining, kayaking, and mountain biking were added to the festival’s roster and it was officially renamed Suru Outdoor Fest in 2019. After going on a pandemic-induced hiatus in 2020, the fest made a comeback in August-September 2021.
All photographs by Sayandeep Roy.
Prerna Dangi helms a group workshop on trad climbing—a discipline that helps lay the groundwork for big-wall climbing.
The 29-year-old attempts a problem called Chana Puri. Whoever scales a specific route on a boulder for the first time gets to christen it. This explains why so many climbs end up with quirky names.
A typical day at the fest starts with the climbers heading towards a bouldering crag with crash pads. Afternoons are mostly spent at the campsite.
As the sun blazes mercilessly, climbers, like Tenzing Jamyang, prepare themselves for the evening’s climbing session by loosening their muscle knots.
Twenty-seven-year-old Harsh Nisar climbs at the Quantum crag, while Piyush Bhutani “spots” him. A spotter’s duty is to ensure the climber’s safety by breaking the fall.
The campsite becomes centre stage for communal gathering at dusk. Climbers get together and indulge in leisurely activities after an arduous day of climbing. The office tent, kitchen and the registration room are stationed around this area.
A bonfire is the perfect way to unwind before calling it a night.
Akshay Sarode carefully treads a highline—a thin webbing set between two anchor points at a great height—as the Milky Way speckles a starry sky in the distance. The 25-year-old athlete spends his time juggling between freelance projects related to martial arts, parkour, climbing and highlining.
Also Read | Conquering The Country’s Toughest Climbing Route
This feature appeared in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India January-February 2022.
Sayandeep Roy is fond of exploring places without a fixed plan. He finds joy in stumbling upon lesser known trails, waterfalls or sleepy cottages. A collection of short stories by Ruskin Bond, and a camera are his constant companions along the way.